Salzburg Global LGBT Forum » Overview


The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was formed in 2013 to establish a truly global space to reflect upon and advance LGBT and human rights discussions around the world, as well as to form a network of international leaders from diverse fields - including human rights, legal, artistic, and religious backgrounds. Founded and chaired by Dr. Klaus Mueller, the Forum currently includes representatives from more than 70 countries on six continents.

Read our new, 200-page publication, Building a Global Community - Salzburg Global LGBT Forum: The First Five Years, which chronicles the first five years of the Forum: the stories our Fellows have shared, the wide-ranging issues we’ve addressed, and the impact the Forum has had on individuals, institutions and ideas advancing LGBT human rights around the world.

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Engaging with Governments and Institutions
Engaging with Governments and Institutions
Klaus Mueller 

“Strengthening human rights across the world is a priority of Germany’s foreign policy. To achieve this goal, building sustainable networks of human rights defenders is of course of central importance. These can be formalized networks in the form of human rights organizations like those that many of you represent, but also more fluid networks, such as the one you are building with the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum.

— Christoph Straesser, Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, German Federal Foreign Office, Berlin, Germany, May 2014

The free expression of sexuality and gender identity has become a defining characteristic of tolerant, pluralistic and democratic societies in the 21st century. In the context of the continuing globalization of the LGBT human rights movement, positive advances of and backlashes against LGBT rights are now interconnected at a previously unseen scale. While equal rights for LGBT people are increasingly understood as fundamental human rights, we also witness a rise of homo- and transphobia as a marker of cultural identity, national sovereignty or religious purity. More often than not, homo- and transphobia also work as tools to discredit the notion of universal human rights in general. Hate, bullying, legal discrimination, rape, or murder due to sexual orientation or gender identity occur around the world. In 78 countries, governments legitimize and sponsor violence. But even where LGBT people benefit from legal protection and growing acceptance within society, history still looms large, as there also, they were seen as dispensable only decades or years ago.

Since its inception in 2013, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has closely worked with governments through both public and behind-the-scenes conversations and partnerships. Through targeted consultative meetings and publications, the LGBT Forum has provided advice to and learned directly from those designing national policies and initiatives. Our Ambassadors Night event has become a strong feature of our sessions, convening ambassadors and law makers from a growing number of countries on the advancement of LGBT equality. Engaged countries include Austria, Bhutan, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Germany, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Sweden, South Korea, Ukraine, the UK, the US and Venezuela. Intergovernmental organizations whose representatives actively support the Forum’s work include UNAIDS, UNDP, UNICEF, the European Union, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the European External Action Service and the World Bank.

The challenges confronting the LGBT and human rights movements are no longer only national or regional but are influenced by a multitude of factors at the global level. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is continuing to strengthen (in) formal connections between human rights groups, embassies, government agencies and international development agencies to advance civil dialogue.


Engaging Governments

Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations

Strengthening International Connections

Happiness and Harmonization - LGBT Laws in Bhutan

Our Donors

Profile: Michael Huffington

Engaging Governments
On the invitation of the German Federal Foreign Ministry, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum convened in Berlin in 2014 to meet with German, Dutch and European Union officials, including Christoph Straesser, German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid.
Engaging Governments
Louise Hallman 

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has sought to establish a truly global space to reflect upon and advance LGBT and human rights discussions around the world. The Forum brings together leaders from diverse fields – including human rights, legal, artistic and religious backgrounds. An important voice (and ear) in those discussions is that of governments.

As the inaugural Salzburg Global LGBT Forum gathered at Schloss Leopoldskron in June 2013, the United States Supreme Court was hearing cases for and against the Defense of Marriage Act; in Hong Kong, the Court of Final Appeal had ruled in favor of a trans-woman seeking the right to marry her boyfriend, ending her three-year long legal battle; and France had just signed both gay adoption and gay marriage into law.

Conversely however, many regressive laws were also being considered, most noticeably Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which originally proposed the death penalty for anyone found to be having same-sex relations, and Russia’s LGBT propaganda law, which made distribution of (extremely loosely defined) “propaganda” among minors in support of  “non-traditional sexual relationships,” a criminal offence. Both pieces of legislation were blamed for increased violence towards the countries’ LGBT communities.

Even in the European Union, where homosexuality is fully decriminalized and many, but not all countries have enacted gender identity laws, an EU report published on May 17, 2013 – IDAHOT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia – found that nearly half of the 93,000+ respondents in the 28 EU member states had “felt personally discriminated against or harassed on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.” A month later, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency presented this largest survey of LGBT discrimination ever undertaken at the Forum’s inaugural session. The survey revealed that 91 percent of the respondents had witnessed homo- and transphobia in schools and that 43 percent of transgender persons reported having been attacked more than three times in the past year.

It is against this backdrop of growing rights, yet persistent persecution that the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum seeks to convene a broad coalition of LGBT human rights defenders to advance the global conversation on LGBT rights.

Stigma and discrimination are widespread in key aspects of LGBT lives including employment, education, housing and health care. While there has been significant progress, LGBT people continue to face both legal and social barriers to equality and inclusion, and consequently are marginalized. Attention to their needs, especially by governments, are essential if countries are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, as set by the United Nations.

Representatives from multiple levels and sectors of governments, including parliamentarians, public servants and diplomats, working on the local, national or international stage, have taken part in all of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum’s sessions since 2013. Two of these gatherings have been held at the behest of German Federal Ministries. In 2014, the Forum was invited to advise the Foreign Office on how its embassies can better engage LGBT organizations. In 2017, the Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, invited Fellows of the Forum to present their learnings from the three-year long “Family is…” project that the ministry supported at a dedicated event in Berlin.

Since 2013, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has seen participation from current and former elected officials in Bhutan, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Serbia and Venezuela; public servants and diplomats from Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Korea, Sweden, the UK, the US, Ukraine and the European Union; and representatives from multilateral organizations including the UNDP, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the Council of Europe.

All sessions have hosted panel discussions with diplomats and legislators. In Chiang Rai in 2016, a panel of ambassadors and lawmakers from the UK, Sweden, Canada, Venezuela and Bhutan ultimately declared that government and civil society from across the globe must work together to identify strategic opportunities and leverage each other’s strengths to further advance the human rights and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

That panel agreed on the importance of building coalitions  —  be they within the LGBT community; between the LGBT community, governments and development partners; or with other civil society organizations that deal with other marginalized populations. Building these bridges, particularly with governments and state structures, can contribute greatly towards turning advocacy into much-needed legal reform and policy change.

“In Bhutan, we are currently reviewing the legal provisions in Bhutanese law which discriminate and criminalize LGBTI people and will be making the necessary recommendations for amendments,” said Ugyen Wangdi, Member of Parliament from Bhutan. “This opportunity [the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in Asia] gives us a unique chance to learn about the needs and issues concerning the LGBT community, and how us, as lawmakers, can make a difference to improve their wellbeing.”

The challenges confronting LGBT persons are not only national or regional, but also global. Developing an understanding of how countries’ and regions’ successes and challenges relate to and influence issues at a global level is essential. The lessons that different cultures and experiences provide should be harnessed to advance LGBT inclusion on the global stage.

As Klaus Mueller underscored following the 2016 session, held in partnership with the UNDP’s Being LGBTI in Asia program, in Chaing Rai, Thailand: “Continuously bringing LGBT human rights groups and government agencies together is vital for a better understanding of how both can collaboratively and independently advance equality and inclusion of LGBT people and communities.”

Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations
Salzburg Global LGBT Fellow Dan Zhou presents the Fellows’ recommendations on creating long-term global networks to sustain LGBT human rights organizations at a public event in Berlin, alongside Pooja Badarinath and Tamara Adrián.
Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations
Louise Hallman and Sudeshan Reddy 

As sympathetic governments gradually adopt LGBT-supportive foreign policy strategies, local LGBT organizations can provide essential “on the ground” insights and advice. In turn, embassies can offer support through wider networks, funding and protections to vulnerable human rights defenders. To help explore and strengthen this burgeoning relationship, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was invited by the German Federal Foreign Office to meet representatives in Berlin in 2014. 

Following its inaugural session in 2013, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was invited by the German Federal Foreign Office to bring together a select group of human rights leaders from across the world to Berlin for three days of consultations in May 2014 as part of the session Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations.

The Federal Office arranged for Klaus Mueller to meet in advance with a range of key personnel whose inputs ensured that the meeting was as wide and relevant in scope as possible. The primary objective of this session was to look at the specific ways in which LGBT issues are addressed by the German Federal Foreign Office and their embassies across the world, but especially in the Global South and East. The session was also designed to assess how German governmental support for human rights issues can help ensure that LGBT and other human rights organizations, embassies and other actors build closer networks and more effective relationships.

Placing the issues into context, Christoph Straesser, the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, noted that: “The question before us, as societies, organizations and persons wishing to protect and promote human rights, is how to halt negative developments, and further advance positive developments. There is no simple answer to this question.” Conceding that also in Germany, the process of recognition of the rights of LGBT persons has been a slow one, Straesser called on the Fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum “to help us identify answers.”

Having commenced his work in this position in January 2014, Straesser gave a clear message:

“Strengthening human rights across the world is a priority of Germany’s foreign policy. To achieve this goal, building sustainable networks of human rights defenders is of course of central importance. These can be formalized networks in the form of human rights organizations like those that many of you represent, but also more fluid networks, such as the one you are building with the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum.”

Straesser also stressed that Federal Foreign Office policy is based on the basic truth that “LGBT rights are human rights.”

Over the course of three days, the group of Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Fellows from China, India, Germany, Lebanon, Russia, South Africa, Syria, Uganda and Venezuela reflected on the progresses and setbacks in their own countries before meeting with and advising representatives from the German Foreign Office, the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European External Action Service, German and international human rights NGOs, as well as security experts, German parliamentarians, and representatives from the German Ministry of Family Affairs and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Fellows had the opportunity to share experiences, ideas and concerns with key stakeholders in the German government as well as with diplomats from the embassies of Argentina, Brazil, Norway, Romania, South Africa, Spain, the US and the European Union. Besides encouraging embassy staff to engage more closely with local activists and integrate them in their outreach to civil society, the activists were encouraged to pro-actively seek and maintain contact with respective embassies.

To this end, Fellows were also offered valuable insights into the operation and procedures of the German Foreign Office, including internal hurdles such as small staffs with multiple portfolios and high turnovers – challenges faced by many other sympathetic countries’ diplomatic missions.

The Forum Fellows emphasized that on-the-ground activists provide valuable information for embassies representing LGBT-friendly countries. Well-intentioned actions – including fast-tracking asylum applications or posing for solidarity photos with local activists – can have both positive and negative consequences. Economic aid sanctions against hostile governments, such as those levied against Uganda in face of its 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, or boycotts of international events in hostile host countries, such as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, among many other examples need continuous and close communication between embassies and human rights groups to help prevent backlash and advance shared goals.

Greater engagement with local activists can not only better inform embassies and international organizations of the LGBT situation in specific countries, but also when support should be discreet or public: the diplomatic pressure on the Serbian government that helped to secure freedom of assembly and Pride March in Belgrade, was discussed as one successful example. Diplomatic intervention by EU members, Germany included, led to integrating LGBT rights into the general human rights framework in some Balkan countries.

The session in Berlin culminated in the issuing of eleven concrete recommendations.

The meeting provided an invaluable opportunity to build on the foundations laid in Salzburg in 2013.

“The opportunity to engage in dialogue and debate in an open, conducive environment cannot be over-estimated,” said Mueller. A consensus was established that this “fluid network” can make a meaningful contribution towards creating long term global networks and sustaining LGBT human rights organizations.

“The combined expertise of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum as well as the diverse range of participants collectively contributed to an enriching, mutually-beneficial experience,” added Mueller.

“For a network to truly live and thrive, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The momentum of Salzburg was sustained in Berlin through the processes of discovery, empathy and learning. It must now continue.”

Fellows’ recommendations on creating long-term global networks to sustain LGBT human rights organizations

There are no easy answers and no “short-cuts” to supporting, enhancing and sustaining LGBT rights. What does make a difference is ongoing networking, engagement and dialogue between diplomatic missions and LGBT human rights organizations. Some of the concrete recommendations resulting from the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum include:

  1. Roundtables and dialogs between donors and activists to discuss LGBT strategies should be increased, not only in countries where LGBT rights are under threat, but before they are under threat. For example, the EU-supported NGO Forum in Lebanon works well in this regard and could be replicated elsewhere.
  2. Donors and supporters of LGBT groups should focus on a multiplicity of issues, not only hate speech or physical violence. In many contexts the major challenges faced by LGBT communities relate to labor, health, housing, family and educational policies.
  3. International groups need to focus on mainstreaming LGBT rights in accepted rights like freedom of expression, assembly and association.
  4. In countries where LGBT activists are facing persecution, imprisonment, and even the death penalty, the international community should consider creating systems for travel visas and protection programs in support of human rights activists.
  5. Training and capacity building for LGBT activists and groups plays a critical role in many places and support for these kinds of activities needs to be increased. Capacity building is critical to advancing the ability of civil society and activists and to building a common thread in countries affected by this issue. However, this support needs to move beyond capital cities to expand work in rural areas and secondary cities.
  6. In countries where LGBT communities are being persecuted, international sanctions should best be leveled against individual politicians – not aid budgets in general. A global reduction in development aid or development support creates a tool for governments to suggest that LGBT communities are to blame for reductions in international support.
  7. International donors should not only support human rights activists, but also the communities and individuals affected by LGBT repression (evictions, job losses, etc.). It is critical to build support for programs that address special circumstances where communities are affected but where support is going to activists themselves.
  8. Diplomatic missions should carefully manage public and non-public tools and engage with local civil society partners in order to ensure that the correct tool is chosen.
  9. Overseas diplomatic missions should, wherever possible, attend Gay Pride parades and other LGBT events, as they can provide a critical safety mechanism for activists and communities.
  10. More international pressure needs to be brought to bear on the people and organizations that are funding the politics of hate and anti-democratic movements.
  11. The international debate needs to be shifted away from talking about the “developed” and “developing” world, and toward a discussion focusing on countries that protect the human rights of LGBT communities and those that do not. For example, countries like Argentina, Brazil and the Philippines can play a significant role in changing the dynamics of the North vs. South debate.

Following their meeting in 2014, many of these recommendations from the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum are now being implemented by the German Federal Foreign Office and have since been developed further through our regular discussions with foreign ministries in our subsequent sessions.


Strengthening International Connections
Donica Pottie, Canada’s ambassador to Thailand joined ambassadors and legislators from Sweden, the UK, Bhutan and Venezuela for the 2016 “Ambassadors Conversation.”
Strengthening International Connections
Louise Hallman 

In October 2016, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was held in partnership between Salzburg Global Seminar and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and its Being LGBTI in Asia program in Chiang Rai, Thailand. As part of the session, a dedicated “Ambassadors Panel” was convened with the ambassadors to Thailand from Canada, Sweden and the UK, and two lawmakers from Bhutan and Venezuela. Together they discussed how activists can build coalitions, improve communications and solve issues with donors, agencies and governments.

Salzburg Global LGBT Forum invites its Fellows as individuals, not just as institutional representatives, and encourages them to share both their expertise and life experiences. Moderating a panel of ambassadors and legislators, Sir Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia invited the eminent speakers to open the panel by sharing their personal reasons why LGBT issues are of importance to them. Aside from their role as representatives of states or governments, each spoke movingly as parents of LGBT children, as open members of the LGBT community or as individuals that support equality.

Moving back into their professional roles, the panelists agreed that despite the growing momentum for LGBT issues in recent years, there is always a possibility of retreat despite accelerated progress. “We need to keep aware and prepared because progress is not linear,” recommended one ambassador.
With the recent examples of third-gender recognition, it was discussed how some embassies manage third-gender passports in visa applications. There were calls to bring attention to often-marginalized LGBT communities in post-conflict environments. For one panelist, the work of embassies centers often on urban centers, with more effort needed to reach rural LGBT communities.

“It is imperative that the international community recognize that inclusive development has to address the barriers to equality faced by LGBTI communities,” said Donica Pottie, Canada’s ambassador to Thailand. “This requires strong partnerships between government, international organizations, civil society and other stakeholders.”

Panelists warned that in recent years there is less money and more competition for civil society projects. It was discussed how groups can draft realistic plans that might be successful in applying for support from specific government and agencies.

Panelists encouraged Fellows that indeed it is often civil society activism and lobbying that has triggered policy reform, with the example of grassroots work that led to global treaties on land-mines.

“An active civil society will likely further necessary progressive social and legal change that will advance LGBT peoples’ rights, health and wellbeing,” said Staffan Herrström, Sweden’s ambassador to Thailand.

Although topics such as homosexuality, sex workers or gender might be unfamiliar or uncomfortable for policymakers, it is crucial to inform politicians of LGBT issues in ways and a language they understand.

Often government officials perceive LGBT issues as a distant topic because they lack accurate information or statistics.

Many questions were addressed: Where are the potential entry points that civil society can use to further engage with governments and donors? How can they improve access to policymaking processes? How can we facilitate LGBT participation in human rights reporting mechanisms? The discussion also highlighted how some governments currently address LGBT issues within their development and social protection priorities and identified where further opportunities exist.

“It was great to have such a wide ranging discussion from such a diversity of perspectives. Engagement across the three pillars of civil society, government and the donor community is essential to developing effective agendas for economic and social inclusion,” said Brian Davidson, Salzburg Global Fellow and the UK’s Ambassador to Thailand. “I will be taking back the lessons from today to inform the approach of my own Embassy in supporting the work of LGBTI groups in Thailand.”

“This conversation builds on a series of meetings and engagements of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum with numerous foreign offices and other government ministries and agencies,” commented Klaus Mueller. “Continuously bringing LGBT human rights groups and government agencies together is vital for a better understanding of how both can collaboratively and independently advance equality and inclusion of LGBT people and communities.”

With the diplomatic participants coming from Western governments, it was acknowledged that ensuring the presence of ambassadorial Global South representatives is at times difficult. The mixture of cultural sensitivities, adherence to governmental policies, or reservations about public support for LGBT issues still cause reluctance to express open support. But this is gradually changing. At the UN level, more countries are joining coalitions or voting in favor of UN decisions supporting LGBT rights.

“Today’s conversation between ambassadors, lawmakers and civil society highlighted that governments remain key partners in promoting and protecting the inclusion of LGBTI people,” said Edmund Settle, Policy Advisor for UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub. He echoed the sentiments of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum by saying: “We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that marginalized groups, including LGBTI people are not left behind.”

Happiness and Harmonization – LGBT Laws in Bhutan
Ugyen Wangdi was one of two members of the National Assembly of Bhutan who participated in the 2016 session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. He was joined by his colleague, Madan Kumar Chhetri on a fact-finding mission as they help their country rewrite their laws pertaining to LGBT rights.
Happiness and Harmonization – LGBT Laws in Bhutan
Louise Hallman 

As the country that originated the concept of “Gross National Happiness,” a Buddhism-inspired alternative to Gross Domestic Product, the tiny mountainous country of Bhutan has a reputation for peace and harmony. Prominent Bhutanese Buddhist teacher, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, has spoken positively on LGBT rights, saying:

“Your sexual orientation has nothing to do with understanding or not understanding the truth. You could be gay, you could be lesbian, you could be straight, we never know which one will get enlightened first… Tolerance is not a good thing. If you are tolerating this, it means that you think it’s something wrong that you will tolerate. But you have to go beyond that – you have to respect.”

Despite this positive Buddhist declaration and its peaceful reputation, Bhutan, like much of the region, still maintains colonial-era anti-sodomy laws, effectively criminalizing homosexuality. The marginalization that Bhutanese LGBT activists and Salzburg Global Fellows have shared at the LGBT Forum points to a distinctly unhappy existence.

However – this is slowly changing, as a harmonization of another kind is taking place.

At the turn of the century, the former king of Bhutan initiated a process to write the country’s first written constitution. When it was enacted in 2008 by the country’s first democratically elected government, a long process was launched to harmonize all of Bhutan’s existing laws with the new constitution that guaranteed many fundamental human rights.

Under such rights, trans men and women can now gain official identification aligned with their gender identity – as one LGBT Forum Fellow from Bhutan was able to gain this year.

With the harmonization process still ongoing, in 2016, two Bhutanese National Assembly members took part in the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, held in Chiang Rai, Thailand, alongside two Bhutanese LGBT rights activists. Parliamentarians Madan Kumar Chhetri and Ugyen Wangdi attended the Forum as part of a fact-finding mission because, although there are clearly LGBT Bhutanese (the country has been represented at two of the five Salzburg Global LGBT Forum sessions), they are not prominent in society, as trans activist Ugyen Tshering had shared with the Forum in 2015.

Passang Dorji, one of the Bhutanese LGBT activists who also attended the Forum in 2016, has sought to change this by publicly discussing his homosexuality on national television in the country. However, despite his and others’ efforts to gain visibility, this was the first time that Chhetri and Wangdi had ever (knowingly) met anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In the course of the five days of listening to panel discussions, taking part in working groups on the importance of family, and speaking privately to other Fellows from around the world, the two parliamentarians met dozens of members of a community they barely had known existed.

When asked on the last day what were the most important insights they had gained through their participation in the Forum, Wangdi noted three things: the importance of terminology, the challenges faced by LGBT people with regards to families and marriage and state-sponsored LGBT extremism.
“That struck me most because anything can happen if law is not correct and right and it can affect the community, society and country as a whole,” he reflected.

Once the session was over, Wangdi and Chhetri planned to work with both their colleagues in parliament and their newfound colleagues from the Forum: “When we go back we will brief our unit about the nature of the LGBT community, and what are the challenges, and we will share with them the legal barriers in our system. Of course, we will talk about how we can really change that,” explained Wangdi.

“Also, we have talked to our two colleagues from the community that it has to be from their side. The initiative has to be taken from their side so that we can support it. We told them that they can write to the parliament saying that there are certain provisions of law that restrict them, or criminalizes them, so request parliament can make the necessary amendments. Also, they can request to share their views with members of the parliament.”

For his part, Dorji was grateful to have had the two politicians take part in the session: “I felt the highest level of happiness in talking face-to-face, and discussing one-on-one about our issues, policies and laws that our country is reviewing.”

The process of changing the laws affecting LGBT people will be slow – the harmonization process is expected to continue beyond the next round of parliamentary elections, to be held in 2018. But Wangdi is positive that change will come and that Bhutan’s LGBT community will finally be more visible.

“Currently [homosexuality] is something criminal, but if you remove that then naturally the community will come up and slowly it will get into mainstream like any other countries.”

Passang Dorji on coming out on TV in Bhutan and progress made

Why our donors support the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum
Staff of the UNDP’s Bangkok Regional Hub and Salzburg Global Seminar pose for a photo at the closing of the 2016 session.
Why our donors support the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum
Ian Brown & Louise Hallman 

Independent foundations, government ministries, agencies of international organizations, and private individuals have all provided their financial resources, their personal expertise and time, and the best of their respective networks to achieve our shared goals.

German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth

On the occasion of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum’s annual session in 2014, hosted at the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, the group of attending Fellows were also invited to speak to the human rights officer at the Dutch Embassy, and to State Secretary Ralf Kleindiek at the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Seniors, Women and Youth. At the Ministry, the Fellows reviewed with the State Secretary the complexities and diversity of LGBT families and, as a result, the concept for the three-year “Family is…?” project was born. This project was piloted in 2015 with a grant from the Ministry, and expanded in 2016-2017. In May 2017, the Ministry premièred the Forum’s film “Family is…? A Global Conversation,” with Kleindiek delivering the opening remarks.

"For our ministry it has been very important to support the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum financially, and this is true especially of the “Family is…?” project and its various forms of outreach regarding LGBT families. For most people, family is a crucial part of their lives and of their identities and so it is important that we have a very wide interpretation of what family is. For us in the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, family is where people of different generations stay with each other, look after each other, and support each other. It’s not dependent on if you are married or not married, or if you are homosexual or heterosexual. It’s not important which sexual or gender identity you have. It is a very serious matter of discrimination if we define family as a closed unit.

“We think it is necessary to make the situations of people in different countries visible and to show what situations people are living in, especially when people, because of their sexual identity, are living in different ways. They also need this sphere of family, they also need the support of other people, of their families.

“For us it is important to make visible these different situations as they exist in Europe and in other parts of the world, and this includes discussing the problems too. We learn from the LGBT Forum how discussions in Germany influence other countries, and how their discussions in other countries influence us in Germany. I am looking forward to the results of this project and I am very happy that we can support it.”

Ralf Kleindiek, German State Secretary for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Since its founding, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has benefited from the active participation of individuals from multiple United Nations agencies including UNAIDS, UNICEF, and OHCHR. In 2015, with the recommendation of the UNDP’s Global LGBT Team Leader, Salzburg Global Seminar was introduced to UNDP colleagues at the Bangkok Regional Hub responsible for their program, “Being LGBTI in Asia.” Thanks to this connection, in 2016, UNDP hosted the fourth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in Chiang Rai, Thailand and ensured the participation of key policymakers at both this and the subsequent session in 2017.

"For UNDP and for the Being LGBTI in Asia program, it is important that we are connected to a global human rights advocacy platform which has a network beyond Asia. For us it is important that we are able to support Asian voices, and not only the well-known and established ones but also to help identify new leaders that are emerging. At the same time, we need to be connected to the global process. One of our key objectives is partnership building – in the Asia/Pacific region and beyond, with governments and other UN agencies, civil society, global advocacy platforms, research institutes, global human rights platforms, etc. We see partnership with Salzburg Global as an important part of this strategy.

“The original agreement between Salzburg Global Seminar and UNDP was to hold the first LGBT Forum outside of Europe. Collaboratively we held this Forum in Chiang Rai, Thailand [in 2016]. For the Forum, some of the benefits of convening outside of Europe is it was able to engage more voices, more individuals from other regions, specifically East and Southeast Asia. The meeting that we had in Chiang Rai, two thirds were actually from the region. Therefore, gay men, lesbian women, trans men and women from 17 Asian countries were able to participate in the Forum, and conversely the Forum was able to get more visibility.

“In addition, in holding the event outside of Europe, we had the opportunity to more easily engage with governments from that region including Members of Parliament from Bhutan. In Chiang Rai this also included ambassadors from major donor countries that are based in Thailand, and this was able to increase exposure for the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in governments like Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom and others.

“This [year, 2017] is my first time here in Salzburg and the experience has been fantastic. Taking part in the conversations and understanding the main topics not only globally but in Africa, and Latin America, and understanding how they relate to Asia has been invaluable – not only for me, but for the participants from Asia.”

Edmund Settle, Regional Policy Advisor, UNDP Bangkok

Open Society Foundations

Open Society Foundations (OSF) is a founding supporter of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum and, as such, is a source of inspiration for its activities. As with others mentioned here, Michael Heflin has personally attended multiple events and contributed valuable expertise to the Forum’s capacity and network-building.

“Open Society Foundations has a relationship with Salzburg Global Seminar that precedes the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. In the past, we have supported different sessions focusing on human rights issues or important global topics, but we thought it was great when Salzburg Global decided to specifically focus on LGBT rights. Salzburg Global has been a really important place to talk about emerging issues in human rights around the globe, and to bring people together working on those issues from different regions of the world. So we have supported the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum since the beginning.

“For us, it’s an important decision whether to fund these global gatherings or seminars, because ultimately most of our funding goes to LGBT groups on the ground in the Global South and East that are trying to change laws, policies, and public attitudes in their own countries. We think it’s important that those activists have opportunities to come together at a regional level and a global level, but we know every time we provide a grant for someone to attend a seminar, that in essence, is money we could have given to a group on the ground.

“But what we have found so far is that Salzburg Global Seminar is different – I think it’s the way that it’s been set up, it really is set up as a discussion format. A lot of times you go [to conferences] and the whole program is very formal, people giving speeches, and I think here, Klaus and others who have supported the Seminar really have done a good job of creating a format where you do hear from people who have expertise in particular areas of the work, but also to facilitate a conversation among the activists and others present.

“At other kinds of convenings that I’ve seen, one really only meets activists. Here there has been an effort to try to bring in people who would define themselves as activists but also other cultural change leaders: lawyers, filmmakers, photographers, people who are working on this issue, but coming at it from a slightly different angle. That creates a conversation that is different because often those people meet with others like them. With human rights issues generally, but with LGBT rights specifically, in most places in the world you are challenging embedded attitudes and what would be seen as cultural norms.

Combining the discussions of legal advocacy with questions about how to build broader public understanding help us reach different audiences, and so that combination is particularly important.”

Michael Heflin, Director of Equality, OSF

Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is also grateful to have homegrown support for its activities. From its earliest days, Ambassador Stefan Scholz (whose father is also a Fellow, having first attended a session in 1960) has been instrumental in drawing together support both from the Ministry centrally and also from across disparate Austrian embassies, primarily from across the Global South. He made the following comments regarding the importance of the Forum at its fifth convening in 2017.

"Starting in 2014, Austria has become an emerging donor to the human rights-specific ‘LGBTI rights and development nexus.’ Linking strategic programming for the ‘LGBTI rights and development nexus’ with forward-looking policymaking has fostered a culture of cooperation in our Ministry of Foreign Affairs between different departments of the political section, the human rights office and the development directorate, and reaching out to local voices.

“The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is the first LGBTI-specific project that we have run, and as part of it we brought ten individuals from our priority countries to Salzburg to participate in this meeting. Our embassies and our cooperation offices were involved in selecting the individuals, and this has been our first step towards networking and outreach. We have to build on this network further in the future.

“The human rights defender EU guidelines and the EU LGBTI guidelines are the key policy documents for the promotion and protection of all human rights of LGBTI persons on the basis of existing international legal standards. I think the time has come to review their country-level implementation critically. So I myself will take this meeting as an opportunity to redistribute, together with our human rights director, these guidelines to the Austrian embassies and country offices, and instruct them to invite the Forum participants together with local human rights defenders and other stakeholders to a feed-back meeting.”

Ambassador Stefan Scholz, Former Director for Planning and Programing of Development Cooperation*

* Scholz was appointed Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran in July 2017.

A Donor Profile - Michael Huffington
Michael Huffington generously provided seed funding to the first session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in 2013. He joined the Forum as a guest speaker at the fifth session – Home: Safety, Wellness and Belonging – in 2017.
A Donor Profile - Michael Huffington
Ivan Capriles 

Michael Huffington has long been a supporter of Salzburg Global Seminar; in fact, he follows in his father Roy’s footsteps. The elder Huffington was a long-term patron of the organization and served as chair of the board of directors for well over a decade. The Huffington Centennial Fund and the Huffington Family Foundation Endowment Fund continue to provide general financial support to Salzburg Global Seminar, and like his sister Terry, Michael has also chosen to give targeted funds for causes close to his heart. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was seeded thanks to a generous initial donation from Michael Huffington. At the fifth session of the Forum, held in May 2017, Huffington shared his life story as part of the long-running “Truth and Transformation” series, shedding light on why LGBT and human rights are such important issues for this philanthropist.

Michael Huffington grew up in 1950s Texas, USA, at a time when there were few openly LGBT people around, and when homosexuals were referred to with offensive slurs. He went through high school and college believing he was only attracted to girls. It wasn’t until he was 27 years old that he realized he also had an attraction to men. It was then that he had his first same sex experience. He recalls that he enjoyed it, but also that he couldn’t really understand what had just happened.

After his first experience with a man, Huffington mainly had girlfriends and only occasionally met guys during the next seven years. His experiences with men left him feeling guilty.

When the 1980s arrived, the AIDS epidemic came with it. The confusion and fear surrounding the virus led Huffington to stop having sex with men – something he would not do again until 18 years later. During this time, he fell in love and married Arianna Stassinopoulos in 1986, and he joined the Greek Orthodox Church during their marriage. He told her about his experiences with men before they married. She accepted him for who he was, and in their eleven years together they had two wonderful daughters.

In the early 1990s, Huffington rose to national prominence as a Republican congressman, particularly during his 1994 US Senate campaign which he narrowly lost. His was the most expensive non-Presidential election campaign in American history at that point. A couple of years later, he and his wife decided to divorce. By 1998, at 50 years old, he decided to come out as bisexual. He was a renowned public figure in California, but his decision went beyond politics, and instead was spiritually based.

His coming out made the national news, something that Huffington hopes was helpful for many others struggling with their sexual orientation.

“So when I knew that God created me in his image, I said ‘OK, I need to love myself and not be concerned about anything else but to live a truthful life and be honest.’ That’s when I decided to publicly come out. I didn’t realize how extensive the publicity would be. I did it because I wanted to help other younger people, because I had suffered through stages of being guilty about my own sexuality and it made a huge impact.”

He began supporting LGBT causes such as the work of the Annenberg School of Communications (University of Southern California) on “sexual orientation in the news” to influence a positive shift of LGBT portrayals in the media, and the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum to foster global conversations on and advance the struggle for LGBT rights.

Now, years after his coming out, Huffington feels happier than at any point of his youth. He considers himself to be truly bisexual, and he admires the younger generation’s use of the word “fluid.” To him, this is a beautiful concept that reminds us that the soul is genderless, and it is simply poured into a body that becomes irrelevant after our death.

For the philanthropist, coming out has been a crucial and necessary step in building the world as a place of love. For him, making this possible begins by loving and accepting ourselves, and over time, this love will spread to those around us.

Michael Huffington on his coming out, bisexuality and being created by God


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Building a Global Community 
The First Five Years

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Family is…? A Global Conversation



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